Hilye -i- serif

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The Noble Hilye

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The Hilye of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) by Mohamed Zakariya

How does one describe the indescribable? How does one form an image of that

which cannot be portrayed? That is what the hilye does – it gives parameters to the imagination so that one can think about the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) with a mental or spiritual image to hang onto yet not attempt to visualize him or portray him in a painting. The hilye is not an icon in words. As impressive and accurate as the many hilye texts are, they still remain vague, contrary to the claims of literalists, who would reject these texts as being visual portraits. That, of course, would not be acceptable to Muslims.

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Imam Tirmidhi (ra), in the late ninth century, quotes a hadith in which the Prophet promises: “For him who sees my hilya after my death it is as if he had seen me myself, and he who sees it, longing for me, for him God will make Hellfire prohibited, and he will not be resurrected naked at Doomsday.” The hilya (literally, “ornament”) consists of short descriptions of the Prophet’s external and internal qualities, drawn from early Arabic sources.
It is told that the Abbasid caliph Harun ar-Rashid bought such a description from a wandering dervish, rewarding him lavishly; the following night he was honored by a vision of the Prophet, who promised him eternal blessings.

According to other popular traditions, the Prophet himself advised his “four friends,” the first four caliphs, before his death to remember his
shama’il-nama, that is, the description of his looks and qualities. One who stitches the hilya in his shroud will be accompanied on his last way by a thousand angels who will recite the funeral prayer for him and ask forgiveness on his behalf until Doomsday.

Out of the simple, sonorous Arabic descriptions of Muhammad’s qualities more artistic forms developed. It seems that veneration of the hilya was especially widespread in Ottoman Turkey. There the calligraphers developed a peculiar style of writing it during the sixteenth century, which was perfected by Hafiz Osman, the master calligrapher of the late seventeenth century. These hilya, often imitated, are round, and beneath the circular frame that contains the description of the Prophet, the line “Mercy for the worlds” is written in large letters.Even today, the hilya is usually printed according to the model set by Hafiz Osman and his disciples, and is kept in homes, to convey blessings upon the inhabitants. To execute a hilya in fine calligraphy was considered a work of great merit: one Turkish woman, widowed and childless, said she regarded the nine she had completed during her lifetime as a substitute for nine children, hoping that they would intercede for her at Doomsday.

~And Muhammad is His Messenger ~ Annemarie Schimmel

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Ahadith Sharif on the Noble Features of Rasul Allah sallallahu alaihi wasallam

(1) HADEETH NO. 1.

Anas (Radiallahu Anhu) reports: “Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihe wasallam) was neither tall nor was he short (like a dwarf–He was of medium stature). In complexion, he was he was neither very white like lime, nor very dark, nor brown which results in darkness (he was illuminant, more luminous than even the full-moon on the 14th night). The hair of Rasullullah (Sallallahu alaihe wasallam) was neither very straight nor very curly (but slightly wavy). When he attained the age of forty, Allah the Almighty granted him nubuwwah (prophethood).He lived for ten years in Makkah (commentary) and in Madina for ten years. At that time there were not more than twenty white hair on his mubarak (blessed) head and beard.”  (This will be described in detail in the chapter on white hair of Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihe wasallam).

Read more here

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“All of the folk hereon agree,

That the Pride of the World was bright of blee,

Full sheen was the radiance of his face,

His cheeks were lustrous with lustre’s grace.

One of heart with the rose was his face’s hue;

Like the rose, unto ruddiness it drew.

Yeled his face in the light of delight,

‘Twas the Chapter of Light  of the dawn of light.

The scripture of beauty was that fair face;

The down on his cheek was the verse of grace.

Shamed by his visage bright as day,

Life’s Fountain hid in the dark away.

Well may the comrades of joyance call:

‘The sheen of his visage conquers all!’

Yon radiant face shone in the sky,

The light of the harem-feast on high.

The Portrait-painter of Nature gave

Thereto all beauty that man may have.

When the sweat upon that Sultan stood.

He was forsoth like the rose bedewed”

Excerpt from “Hilya-i Sharifa” (Hilye-i Şerif) of Mehmet Hakani

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The Handsome Eyes of Our Beloved Mustafa (May Allah give him peace & blessings)

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The Hilya in Islamic Calligraphy

Standard layout

The standard layout for the Ottoman hilye panel is generally attributed to Hâfiz Osman. This layout is generally considered to be the best and has come to be the classical form.It contains the following elements:

  • The baş makam (“head station”), a top panel containing a bismallah or blessing
  • The göbek (“belly”), a round shape containing the first part of the main text in naskh script. It often contains the description of Muhammad by Ali (according to Tirmidhi), with minor variations
  • The hilâl (“crescent“), an optional section with no text, which is often gilded. A crescent encircling the göbek, with its thick middle part at the bottom. Together, the göbek and hilal also evoke the image of the sun and the moon.
  • The kösheler (“corners”), usually four rounded compartments surrounding the göbek, typically containing the names of the four Rashidun or “rightly-guided” Caliphs according to Sunnis, or in some cases other titles of Muhammad, names of his companions, or some of the names of Allah.
  • The ayet or kuşak (“verse” or “belt”) section below the göbek and crescent, containing a verse from the Quran, usually 21:107 (“And We [God] did not send you [Muhammad] except to be a mercy to the universe”), or sometimes 68:4 (“Truly, you [Muhammad] are of a tremendous nature”) or 48:28–29 (“And God is significant witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God”).
  • The etek (“skirt” or lower part) containing the conclusion of the text begun in the göbek, a short prayer, and the signature of the artist. If the main text fits completely in the göbek, the etek may be absent.
  • The koltuklar (“empty spaces”), two alleys or side panels on either side of the etek that typically contain ornamentation – sometimes illuminated – but no text, although occasionally the names of some of the ten companions of Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) are found there.
  • The and dış pervaz (“inner and outer frame”), an ornamental border in correct proportion to the text.

The remainder of the space is taken up with decorative Ottoman illumination, of the type usual for the period, often with a border framing the whole in a contrasting design to the main central field that is the background of the text sections. The “verse” and “corners” normally use a larger thuluth script, while the “head” section with the bismallah is written in muhaqqaq. Unlike the literary genre of hilye, the text on calligraphic hilyes is generally in prose form.

The names in Turkish of the central structural elements of the hilye are, from top to bottom, başmakam (head station), göbek (belly), kuşak (belt) and etek (skirt). This anthropomorphic naming makes it clear that the hilye represents a human body, whose purpose is “to recall semantically the Prophet’s presence via a graphic construct”. It has been suggested that Hafiz Osman’s hilye design might have been inspired by the celebrated Hilye-i Şerif, which in turn was based on the possibly spurious hadith according to which Muhammad has said “… Whoever sees my hilye after me is as though he has seen me… “. If so, a hilye might have been meant to be not read but seen and contemplated, because it is really an image made of plain text.

The standard Hilye-i Şerif composition has been followed by calligraphers since its creation in the late 17th century.

Read more on Sections of Hilye plates here

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 Endless Bliss :- Hilya i Sa’adat

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“One who stitches the hilya in his shroud will be accompanied on his last way by a thousand angels who will recite the funeral prayer for him and ask forgiveness on his behalf until Doomsday”

From `Ali [son-in-law of the Prophet], may God be pleased with him, who, when asked to describe the Prophet, peace be upon him, would say: He was not too tall nor too short. He was medium sized. His hair was not short and curly, nor was it lank, but in between. His face was not narrow, nor was it fully round, but there was a roundness to it. His skin was white. His eyes were bla…ck. He had long eyelashes. He was big-boned and had wide shoulders. He had no body hair except in the middle of his chest. He had thick hands and feet. When he walked, he walked inclined, as if descending a slope. When he looked at someone, he looked at them in full face. Between his shoulders was the seal of prophecy, the sign that he was the last of the prophets. He was the most generous-hearted of men, the most truthful of them in speech, the most mild-tempered of them, and the noblest of them in lineage. Whoever saw him unexpectedly was in awe of him. And whoever associated with him familiarly, loved him. Anyone who would describe him would say, I never saw, before him or after him, the like of him. Peace be upon him.
He was the most generous of men in his heart, the most truthful of them in speech, the mildest of them in temper, and the noblest of them in descent. Anyone who saw him immediately felt awe, and anyone who partook of his knowledge loved him. The one who described him says he has never seen anyone like him, either before or after him. May God bless him and grant him peace.

God, bless and grant peace to Muhammad, your servant, your Prophet and your messenger, the illiterate Prophet, and to his family and companions, and grant them all peace. ~Amin ~

hilye i serife



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